Controlled Burn by Erin McLellan

Please welcome Erin McLellan as she shares with us her discovery of the romance world!

How I Discovered Romance: A Love Story

Anyone who is even a little acquainted with the romance community or enjoys reading romance knows that the genre sometimes gets a little flack. I’ve had my own journey from secretly reading romance under the covers to proudly proclaiming I’m a romance author.

When I was in a creative writing undergraduate program, we were instructed in our workshop classes to only write literary fiction. Genre fiction, including romance, was somewhat frowned upon. Now, don’t get me wrong—I like a lot of literary fiction, especially when it’s written by badass women, and I learned a lot in this undergraduate program. My professors made me a better writer, and I’m thankful it was the path I chose. But as I neared the end of my four years, I had very little desire to continue writing. I’d burned out.

But, the summer before my senior year of undergrad, I discovered romance.

That summer was not an easy one. My parents’ house, my childhood home, was destroyed by a tornado. (Welcome to Oklahoma, y’all.) Then a month later, my maternal grandmother died unexpectedly. I was really struggling, and the books I normally retreated to when I was down or hurting just weren’t cutting it. I didn’t want to read sad stories that never got better. I didn’t want to read unhappy endings.

My oldest sister had given me The Unsung Hero by Suzanne Brockmann a couple of years before, and it had sat on my bookshelf ever since, gathering dust. So that summer, while I was packing for the drive to Kansas for my grandma’s funeral, I threw the novel in my bag.

I devoured that book. It was just the solace I needed, and it came to me at exactly the right time. After that, I gobbled up every Suzanne Brockmann book I could get my hands on.

The next year, I started graduate school for library and information studies. By this point, I was reading a lot of romance, but I didn’t really talked about it. Loving romance was not something I could have easily admitted in any of my undergraduate classes.

That was not a problem in my graduate school program. One of the great things about libraries, especially public libraries, which was my focus, is that they advocate for readers and intellectual freedom. Collection development librarians know that there is a huge reader demand for romance. It accounts for some of the highest circulation stats in most public libraries. As I went through graduate school, I realized that being well versed in romance was something to be proud of. It made me employable. It gave me a genre to champion in my readers’ advisory classes.

It was in one of these readers’ advisory classes where I discovered m/m and f/f romance, which changed my life. Romance has gotten me through some of my hardest times. It has given me friends when I’m lonely, and happily-ever-afters when I’m sad. And it gave me an outlet when I realized that I wasn’t really burned out on writing. I was just tired of writing stories that didn’t make me happy.

I can’t wait for you to meet Joel and Paulie, and hope you enjoy their romance as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Follow along as I stop off at several blogs throughout the week, and don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a $25 Riptide Publishing gift card!


At eighteen, Joel Smith’s life fell to pieces. His boyfriend died in a car crash while reading a sext from him, the local newspaper outed them both in the aftermath, and his parents got a divorce. Joel did everything possible to outrun his past: he moved to Oklahoma for college, legally changed his name, and started over.


Since then, he hasn’t let anyone get close—not his classmates, not his roommate, and definitely not his hookups. The strategy has served him well for over three years. Why would he change it now?


But Joel doesn’t plan on the articles about his boyfriend’s death being used as a case study in one of his classes. And he doesn’t plan on Paulie McPherson, who is sweet and giving and fun. In Paulie, he finds a home for the first time in years.


But love isn’t simple, and lies have a tendency to get in the way. Joel must figure out if he’ll allow his grief to rule him, or if his connection with Paulie is worth letting all of his walls come tumbling down.


Now available from Riptide Publishing.


Controlled Burn by Erin McLellan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What an impressive debut book! Controlled Burn is a very well-written book with complex characters. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for more books by Erin McLellan.

Joel’s high school boyfriend died in a tragic car accident and afterward, their sexts were made public, outing both teens and destroying Joel even more. The guilt over Diego’s death (who crashed his car while reading texts from Joel) eats him alive and he can’t find a way past it. He doesn’t even want to find a way past it most of the time, as he thinks it’s disloyal to Diego’s memory to move on with his life and be happy. After being shunned by his town, friends and family, Joel changes his name and starts college in a new state.

Paulie approaches Joel on the first day of a shared ethics class and decides they’re going to be friends, no matter Joel’s opinion on the subject. On the outside, Paulie is confident and mature and happy, but he has his own struggles hiding below the surface. He and his sister ran away from their Quiverfull family and live with an aunt; his sister struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, and Paulie carries a lot of guilt over that.

The romance aspect of this book is incredibly slow burn. Paulie and Joel become closer and closer friends – well, as close as Joel allows, seeing as how he never plans to tell Paulie – or anyone – about his past. Their relationship is fraught with secrets and angst and drama. At times, they’re so good together, but Joel’s inability to open up about his past not only holds back his personal growth, but their relationship growth as well. It takes almost losing everything for him to realize that he has to burn everything down so it can grow back healthy and whole.

The driving force behind this book, however, isn’t the romantic connection, IMO. It’s the personal growth both Joel and Paulie experience as the story progresses. They support each other and bolster each other enough to give them the confidence to face the things they’re hiding from. Both have difficult family relationships and at a point, both Joel and Paulie have difficult situations to deal with. There isn’t a big fix by the end, though. I thought it was incredibly realistic in that there isn’t hand holding and skipping off into a rainbow with moms and dads at the end. They both kind of find a way to accept the family situation they’ve been dealt and find a way to make it work for them.

I really, really struggled with the journalist mentioned in the story. Joel and Diego’s texts were published by a young journalist, and that rankled me wrong in so many ways. I’m a journalist by training and the idea of taking someone’s – a dead teenager’s – personal text messages and publishing them, thereby outing him, makes my skin crawl. Note, this isn’t a criticism of the book. Just me talking about something that really upset me – as it was supposed to. Actually, the only criticism I have for this book is it was a bit too long and dragged in a few places. It could’ve been tightened up just a bit and would’ve been even more impactful.

All in all, this was an incredibly impressive debut novel by an author I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye on.

A copy of this book was received from the publisher through NetGalley for review on OMGReads.

View all my reviews


About Erin McLellan

Erin McLellan writes contemporary romance, often set in the South or Midwest—particularly Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas—with characters that are complex, good-hearted, and sometimes a little quirky. Erin likes her stories to have a sexy spark and a happily ever after.

Erin has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of Oklahoma. She has always enjoyed writing, but becoming a librarian and meeting enthusiastic romance readers helped her find her own writing passion. Now Erin cheerfully writes romance with characters across the LGBTQIA spectrum. A former public librarian, she still enjoys being surrounded by books and readers, but Erin hopes to find her stories on the shelves as well.

Originally from Oklahoma, she currently lives in Alaska with her husband, and spends her time dreaming up love stories set in the Great Plains. She is a lover of chocolate, college sports, antiquing, Dr Pepper, and binge-worthy TV shows.

Connect with Erin:









To celebrate the release of Controlled Burn, one lucky winner will receive a $25 Riptide credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on August 19, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!


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8 Thoughts to “Controlled Burn by Erin McLellan”

  1. Trix

    Thanks for the review and interview!


  2. H.B.

    Thank you for sharing how you got into romance. Thank you also for the review =)
    humhumbum AT yahoo DOT com

  3. Jennifer

    Considering the MM romance world is populated by many people who can’t write very well, whenever I see that something is well-written, I definitely have to check it out!
    jlshannon74 at

  4. Peaches

    Yep. I was in high school when I discovered Harlequin. From there I read as much romance by as many authors in as many sub-genres as I could. When I told a teacher of mine this, he smirked and told me, “Oh, that’s not reading. Those aren’t real books. ” I didn’t fall for his attempt to shame me, but it’s a memory that has stayed with me. peachescon(at)gmail(dot)com

  5. Sheila

    I read the excerpt on this a while back and have been really looking forwards to the release! Can’t wait to read it!!!


  6. Ami

    I think I’ve discovered romance around high school age when a friend of mine pointed it out to me. Before that I’m a mystery girl :). Congratulations on your book release, Erin

  7. Serena S.

    Congrats on the new release! And thanks for the review.

  8. Lisa

    Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooter series is awesome! Thanks for the post & review
    legacylandlisa at gmail dot com

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